Here in the Northeast, winter temperatures can easily drop into the single digits—even below 0° F for the cooler climates. This leaves many homeowners shivering and wondering how they can improve the cost and efficiency of heating up their home. Most often, the question comes down to this: gas or oil? Which is better?
Many people swear by the warm and efficiency of an oil heater. Others find themselves equally defending the cost and warmth of natural gas heaters. If you're considering getting a new furnace or if you're looking at buying a home, here's what you need to consider when looking at either option.
If you are buying a home, the first thing to consider when thinking about how (or if) you're going to stay toasty warm this winter is to look at the furnace's efficiency rating. This is often called the AFUE, or the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. The rating works to measure how efficient the machine's combustion is. A higher rating means it is more efficient.
Typically, a new oil furnace is going to have an AFUE rating above 80% but generally below 90%. On the other hand, a gas furnace usually comes in at around 89% to 98%. Based on these ratings along, you might begin leaning towards a gas furnace as the top choice. But, this efficiency comes at a cost! Gas units usually cost 10% to 25% more than an oil furnace that's the same size.
Now, if you're buying a home with a furnace already installed, you might not even have to pay the upfront difference, which means you're going to hugely benefit from the efficiency of a gas furnace without fronting the cost. Regardless of whether it's gas or oil, though, ask your home inspector to check its age. A new furnace is always going to be more efficient than one that's 10 years or older, usually by 30% or so.
When deciding between oil or gas, think about the age and efficiency of the particular furnace installed in the home. If it's old and has a low rating to begin with, you might want to consider replacing the furnace before the cold weather blows in. You should also consider the fuel costs when thinking about your furnace.
Gas furnaces are generally cheaper to run, and the cost of natural gas is going up at about half the rate of heating oil. Meanwhile, propane has experienced a decrease in cost (although it still costs more than twice as much as natural gas, on average) and electricity is still facing slight annual increases in cost.
Natural gas prices are cheaper because there is a more stable supply of it. Oil, on the other hand, is much more volatile and the global market is always going to impact its price. Oil furnaces will provide more heat per BTU than another heating source, though. They are also easily services by a regular delivery company so long as you have an active service contract.
With that in mind, both types of furnaces require regular maintenance to keep running at their prime.